These are the foot images that I am clever enough to recognize as significant. I’m likely to add more as I become cleverer.
The key metaphor is that having your foot on the ground symbolizes freedom; you can move around freely. Having your foot lifted symbolizes control by another. Having your foot injured symbolizes an injury to your freedom. Having a heel lifted symbolizes partial control, being influenced, reduced freedom of movement. The extreme case of being off your feet is being down; see the down catalog. A special case of being down is being flat on your back, as Utena is when she falls back into the car to be kissed in her Cinderella scene. Being flat on your back is the worst situation. To be sitting is better, and to be standing is best: See Utena unable and able to remember under flat on your back.
The left foot and the right foot have opposite meanings. The left foot refers to turning left, moving toward illusions. The right foot implies truth or realism. See the fencer below.
Young Touga and Saionji enter the church where they find little Utena in the coffin. Both are wearing white shoes for the prince—meaning Akio, who has taken control of events. Both step in with the left foot first.
Their shoes look similar. I assumed they were specialized kendou shoes, but apparently not so. They don’t resemble the kendou footwear I looked up, which seems to be designed for lightness and good grip.
Nanami challenges Utena to a duel by throwing a white rose to her feet. It lands on her right foot; Nanami is serious. When Utena wins, Nanami’s truncated yellow rose falls to her feet. It touches her left foot; Nanami does not take her loss seriously; it is a game, not a true loss.
It’s in part a comparison of Nanami to Akio. Nanami breaks a rule to challenge Utena; she does not have a dueling ring (yet). After losing, Nanami breaks another rule and keeps fighting. In the Cinderella scene of episode 30, as Akio works to corrupt Utena, he tells her that they are alike, both rule-breakers. He does not mention that his rule-breaking is hurtful while Utena’s (until she is corrupted) is not.
By the way, before episode 10 Nanami wears shoes of a similar design, but the colors are white and gray rather than white and yellow. Nanami wears yellow only starting in episode 10.
Utena and Nanami are the only ones to have ribbons on their shoes. They don’t look like shoelaces to me, though maybe they are. A few times we see proper shoelaces on other characters. I don’t know what it means.
That’s Mamiya on the left, putting on his clothes, and Mikage on the right. They did it here of all places? Well, it’s home—those are the shoes of the dead duelist boys, left at the entrance to their new residence in the coffin and crematorium room. Mikage’s shoes are lined up with the empty shoes, saying that he is dead like them. I think that Mikage alive and Mikage dead are the same thing. Mikage’s world is timeless. He is Professor Nemuro, who died along with the 100 boys, and he is Hades, immortal ruler of the land of the dead.
Kozue is under the influence of the black rose. When she appears in the music room to take Miki’s sword, she wears white shoes for the prince. Her actions are princely: She believes she is protecting Miki, but she is also taking away his freedom. As she does in rescuing the nestlings, she takes on a male role and pushes Miki into a female role. It is part of Kozue’s parallel with Utena. At the same time, white clothing or shoes stand primarily for seeking the prince: Kozue sees Miki as her prince.
Tokiko runs past the burning building to reach Mamiya. She is wearing high heels, and her skirt is not slit to allow free movement. She runs awkwardly, which seems to be more due to the constricting skirt than the senseless (opposite of sensible) shoes. Both mean the same: Her freedom of movement is literally constrained, and her freedom in general is metaphorically constrained. She admonishes Mamiya but can do nothing about the situation.
The image is from Mikage’s memory, which is completely wrong on some points. Mamiya is not there. That doesn’t affect the interpretation.
The bars of the fence are a cage. The 100 boys are inside. The cage symbolism seems to apply to Tokiko too... and Mikage.
When Kozue heroically rescues the nestlings, her left foot is the first to slip from the building’s ledge—it becomes unsupported, it is lifted into the air. Her left foot is injured when she falls. Akio must have somehow engineered the injury. Later in the episode, her ankle still bandaged, Kozue meets up with Akio and goes for a ride in Akio’s car.
Most students wear dark-colored shoes. Kozue wears blue-green shoes, the color of illusions.
In episode 29, an anonymous member of the fencing club injures her right ankle. It’s presumably an honest sports injury, not an engineered injury like others here. Juri (not Akio) makes sure the injury is treated, and the fencer ends up in a hospital bed. One purpose is to bring Juri into the hospital to show the shadow play. Another purpose is to contrast with the engineered injuries.
I think a third purpose is to clarify the meaning of left foot injuries versus right foot injuries. Left foot injuries indicate being deluded; the character has been misled by illusions or delusions. Right foot injuries are not caused by illusions. The metaphor is related to turning left. By the way, as I write this I have a minor injury to my left foot....
Akio has taken Utena’s left shoe. The scene is in romantic soft focus; it is Utena’s point of view. The shadow line puts Utena in the light and Akio in the dark. She’s not corrupted yet (it’s at the end of the episode). But she’s in Akio’s car, and things that Akio wants to associate with adulthood are coming toward her. Shadow falls on Utena’s face when she drops back into the car, surrendering her agency, to let Akio kiss her.
Removing the shoe is about controlling Utena’s movement. He also limits her movement in the First Seduction and Second Seduction, taking control of transportation. Here, he wants to carry her, taking full control. Utena is not to make choices—that is what it means to become a princess, as Cinderella does. Cinderella’s gifts disappear at midnight; Akio wants Utena to feel special, but specialness lasts only a short time.
No soft focus here, so I guess this is Akio’s point of view. Akio removes Mrs. Ohtori’s left shoe, turning her into Cinderella. It seems to be a standard step in his seduction script. Akio’s hand position on the heel is identical in the image of Utena above, earlier in the episode. Surely he removed Touga’s left shoe at some point in episode 25.
Akio is Mrs. Ohtori’s prince. Akio doesn’t know that for sure until she dismissively puts down her husband; see his wicked smile then. The shoe suggests that she has faced about the same degree of seduction as Utena, and has fallen faster. It must be part of Akio’s plan to deal with the Ohtori family. In only two more episodes, Akio and Anthy do away with Kanae.
Akio doesn’t gain this level of control over Utena until the Second Seduction.
Through Anthy, Akio arranges an accident for Nanami and swoops in to save her. Later, he bandages her ankle. We don’t see a left foot beyond it, so I conclude it is the left. In any case, it’s an anime injury; Akio reduces her freedom of movement, but not for long. In the next scene she prances around freely with no pain.
In the two pictures above, Akio lifts Utena’s and Mrs. Ohtori’s feet from the floor. He controls them: They do not have freedom of movement. Nanami’s foot is hurt but stays on the floor except as raised by the heel. Nanami does not become a princess, but her high heels are restricting her movement (even if we can’t see it in the animation). The system of control has its thumb on her. Compare Utena’s lifted heels below with Touga.
When Anthy draws Utena’s sword in the stock footage of the Apocalypse Saga, it’s possible to make out that she is wearing red shoes with (not particularly tall) high heels. As a princess, Anthy wears the red shoes that force her to dance forever.
Later in episode 31, Nanami sees Anthy and Akio together and is deeply disturbed. This is Anthy’s left leg; Anthy is captured by illusions. Anthy is wearing nothing, but her red princess dress is on the floor, and the red shoe is part of the princess costume. High heels are supposed to be sexy (personally, I’ve never been able to see that illusion). In the context of a sexy scene, the heels are taller than in the context of drawing Utena’s sword.
The feet of princesses are usually hidden under the long dress. The lifted heels are one of the symbols that princesses are under the control of others. Her heel lifted higher says that she is more strongly controlled. The spike heel is symbolically male and says what controls her. Anthy’s left foot is on the floor and her right foot is not: She is not deluded, but realistically knows that Akio controls her. She knows she is captured, and does not know that she is captured by illusions—it’s a lot to read into a view of one leg.
The red shoes here are on the feet of the teacher who orders Utena around in episode 7, here chasing Chu-Chu past Juri. She is the same teacher who berates Utena in episode 1 with less success, and asks Nanami about her cowbell in episode 16. Her red shoes are visible each time. In episode 30 the red shoes are barely visible, but she openly admires Akio. She is also dancing to Akio’s tune, and will for the rest of her life.
I doubt Akio puts much effort into controlling her. I expect the teacher decided on her own to fall under his spell.
Entering the hotel room of the First Seduction, at first Utena is not at ease. Akio simply waits. As Utena gets used to it, step by step she approaches Akio and lowers herself to the floor, metaphorically subordinating herself to him. Here she feels so comfortable that she bicycles her legs in the air; see watching television. She doesn’t care that she’s wearing a short dress.
Akio has control over transportation. Once Utena is in the car, she has no influence over where they go or how long they stay. Here she signals that she’s fine with that. She herself lifts her feet as high in the air as they go, metaphorically granting control of all her movements to Akio. In the Cinderella scene above, she objected to Akio carrying her; here she has dropped the objection and lifts her feet herself.
When the prince leads little Utena to Anthy, we get this view of their feet. It seems to foretell which shoe Akio will make off with. It means that Utena is already being fooled by illusions.
The white light is coming from Anthy’s direction, even though everything there is dark and red. Anthy suffers in the red light of violence, while the onlookers stand in the prince’s white light of truth.
Akio’s shoes vary in different images. In the recap to introduce the Black Rose, his shoes resemble Utena’s, partly white and partly dark. Akio’s shoes are dark purple; Utena’s are midnight blue. The two-tone shoes refer to Dios (the day) and Akio (the night) and equate them. Utena’s shoes point to her past meeting with Dios/Akio and her future corruption.
Compare with the shoes in the above image. Akio playing Dios wears white shoes. He does it again in the final showdown. Little Utena’s shoes are dark purple for corruption, nearly the same color as Akio’s shoes. Akio’s goal in the prince story is to take away little Utena’s freedom—to corrupt her feet into taking her down the path Akio has chosen for her.
The rose at Utena’s feet is a challenge from Nanami. We can take the rose at Akio’s feet—which he himself cut and discarded—as a challenge from Utena—or rather, Akio challenges himself to defeat Utena.
On Touga’s horse, Touga’s foot is in the stirrup and Utena’s foot hangs down loosely at an angle. It’s her left foot again. In the gondola as Touga and Utena ascend to the dueling arena at night, Touga pulls Utena upward and her heels lift from the floor. Both are Touga’s aggressive actions to control Utena. On the horse he lifts her foot entirely, and she loses freedom of movement; Utena was foolish to go along with the horse ride. In the gondola, he lifts her feet partially and does not gain full control over her. Utena’s feet are at similar angles in the two pictures. Compare Nanami’s high heels above.
In the final showdown, after touching Utena’s ring and her face, Akio extends his claim of possession over her, moving close and putting his hands on her shoulders. Utena has lost her earlier anger and seems unsure. She bends a knee and lifts her left heel from the ground, leaning in to him slightly. Akio’s lies are influencing her; she is largely convinced. Compare Utena kissing Wakaba in episode 12. Like Utena on the left, Wakaba on the right feels unsure and attracted and is under influence. Wakaba lifted her right heel from the ground, the heel of truth. Utena is influenced by lies, Wakaba by truth.
Immediately after this, Akio draws Utena’s sword and turns her into a princess. Wrapping an arm around her back completes his claim of possession.
When Anthy dances with Utena at the dance party in episode 3, Anthy wears white high heels. Utena rescued Anthy from Nanami’s harassment, and for that Anthy sees Utena as her prince, at least for the moment. The shoes are white for prince Utena, and have high heels for Anthy’s powerless princess status. Utena lifted her left heel, because her perceived princehood is a delusion.
When Anthy leaves the Academy at the end of the series, she wears white shoes with low heels, white for prince Utena and with low heels because she is Utena’s equal partner, not Utena’s subordinate princess. She walks to the left, in the direction of illusions, because Utena is no longer a prince. Left is also forward for Japanese.
Jay Scott <firstname.lastname@example.org>
first posted 13 February 2022
updated 12 November 2023